Bill Russell, NBA Hall of Famer and legendary Boston Celtics defensive player, has died, his family confirmed on Sunday. He was 88.
Considered by many to be the greatest pro-basketball player of all time, Russell won 11 NBA championships as a player for the Celtics and two as a coach. “Bill Russell was the greatest champion in all of team sports,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement on Sunday. “The countless accolades that he earned for his storied career with the Boston Celtics — including a record 11 championships and five MVP awards — only begin to tell the story of Bill’s immense impact on our league and broader society.” Born in Louisiana in 1934, Russell discovered basketball while in high school before going on to play for the University of San Francisco. It was at USF where Russell won NCAA championships in 1955 and 1956 — the same year he scored a gold medal for Team USA at the Melbourne Summer Olympics. Later that year, Celtics coach Red Auerbach drafted Russell, and the legendary pair led the Celtics to victory for eight years straight, from 1959 to 1966. Auerbach would go on to call Russell “the single most devastating force in the history of the game.”
Russell, the first Black head coach in NBA history, was also a champion for civil rights. “From boycotting a 1961 exhibition game to unmask too-long-tolerated discrimination, to leading Mississippi’s first integrated basketball camp in the combustible wake of Medgar Evers’s assassination, to decades of activism ultimately recognized by his receipt of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010, Bill called out injustice with an unforgiving candor that he intended would disrupt the status quo,” his family said in a statement. See more tributes to Russell below.